Tax hike studied for school safety

By Vicki Hyatt | May 06, 2013

The issue of raising taxes to beef up school safety is one Haywood County Commissioners will need to make quickly.

County Manager Marty Stamey and County Finance Officer Julie Davis plan to present a draft budget for the commissioners to consider later this month, and will need direction on the school safety issue before that point.

At Monday's board meeting the commissioners made plans to meet with the board of education, as well as Sheriff Greg Christopher and representatives from the police departments across the county at a 6 p.m. Thursday meeting. The work session will be held at the Haywood County Schools administration building in Clyde. Members of the public who attend will be allowed to speak, Commission Chairman Mark Swanger said after the meeting.

The Haywood County Board of Education is requesting funds to cover four more school resource officers and four more guidance counselors, a request that made up the bulk of the $421,000 in school system's funding request above last year. In addition, school leaders are requesting an extra $410,000 in capital outlay to make school campuses more secure.

At Monday's county board meeting, the board said the request cannot be granted without raising taxes. Commissioner Kevin Ensley said the discussion should focus on whether 11 extra school resource officers are needed, because that's how many are necessary to have an officer in every school.

The board briefly discussed the merits of having an armed officer on each campus and asked the sheriff to weigh in on the issue.

Christopher spoke about a COPS grant program whereby local agencies can get a 75 percent matching grant to hire new officers in the first year. The match decreases by 25 percent annually until by year four, the agency picks up the total cost. The sheriff's office is eligible to apply for up to five officers, but the application deadline is May 22, Christopher said.

During the work session, the commissioners said they would like to know more details about where the school officers would be placed and who would ultimately supervise the officers.

School Superintendent Anne Garrett said the principal is generally the final authority on campus, something Swanger said should be studied as well.

Haywood County Board of Education Chairman Chuck Francis said the board was requesting four officers and four counselors, but said the issue of adding a total of 11 resource officers could be revisited at the board's Monday meeting.

For more information on the May 9 meeting, contact the county manager’s office at 452-6625.